NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Benefits of Advertising Ignored by Opponents

September 16, 1998

Paid advertising is an effective means of breaking through liberal domination of the media, says economist Bruce Bartlett. For example, during recent debate over tobacco legislation, the major cigarette companies ran television commercials and full-page newspaper ads which (correctly) painted the legislation as a government tax-grab that would fall mainly on low income people. These facts would never have been learned from conventional news coverage, which was strongly biased. As people learned the truth, support for the legislation collapsed.

Similarly, Republicans have long known that without advertising many wouldn't get elected because of liberal media bias. But once when they run advertisements, their electoral chances improve markedly.

Thus, if liberals can restrict advertising, people will be more dependent on them for information -- greatly enhancing their ability to implement a liberal agenda, Bartlett says. Although the First Amendment constrains the government's ability to restrict advertising, many restrictions have been implemented. For example, tobacco companies are legally prohibited from advertising their products on television.

In "Fear of Persuasion," American Enterprise Institute economist John Calfee points out that advertising has had enormous benefits for consumers. It has lowered prices for many goods, such as eyeglasses and prescription drugs, and improved the welfare of consumers by providing them with information about new products and new uses for existing products. Indeed, the Federal Trade Commission, no friend of business, consistently defends advertising as essential to help consumers make informed choices.

Calfee also points out that problems in advertising tend to be self-correcting. That is because competitors -- whether in business or politics -- will quickly point out any misstatements, overstatements or inflated claims in their own ads. This market constraint on false advertising is generally far more effective than government regulation.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, September 16, 1998.


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